Observing the Foliage of Useppa Island
Welcome to Useppa Island – where golf carts, transporting sharp-dressed locals minus clubs, tees or balls, hum on palm-lined streets. A calm sea breeze carries the calls of native birds from their mangrove branches near the water’s edge. The clap of mallet against wooden ball rings out from the island’s croquet courts. Catboat sails – like small, wayward clouds – glide across the water just offshore.
A world away from the bustling mainland, this mile-long sanctuary rests among the placid waters of Pine Island Sound. Like most of the island communities dotting Southwest Florida’s coastline, life moves slowly here. The days are long and quiet. The sunsets are brilliant. And the native flora and fauna are vibrant and thriving.
However, walking through the trails and narrow roads of Useppa you’ll notice the island’s distinct and unsullied air. No roads lead to this place. And, aside from the smattering of grandiose seaside mansions and the famed Collier Inn, you’ll find very little development to speak of.
Perhaps this explains Useppa’s reputation as one of the best places to view striking Floridian foliage. In a place where summer lasts nearly year-round, the leaves don’t change color, but rather exist in a permanent state of vivid polychrome. Take the bright reds and oranges of wild bromeliads, the pastel pinks and yellows of hibiscus flowers, and even the deep purples of scaevola. In more fluctuating northern climates, leaf peeping is reserved for the first few months of fall. Here, the hobby knows no season.
Near the northeastern shore of Useppa, a century-old path called the Pink Promenade winds through lush tropical vegetation and a cornucopia of exotic flowers. This trail – originally constructed of shells and pink sand in 1903 – leads you under spectacular archways of banyan tree branches. These massive, fig-producing trees sprout intricate networks of aerial roots that spider up their trunks and throughout the surrounding area. Banyans are so dense and complex that each individual tree looks like a self-contained forest. They also grow large, leathery, deep green leaves. In fact, the selection found on Useppa Island produces the biggest banyan leaves in the entire country.
On the outskirts of the island, an equally dense and intertwining forest of red, white and black mangrove trees provides a thriving haven for local birds and aquatic life along the shore. Native dune sunflowers poke out of the sand, as if deliberately out of place. And, rising high above the island’s tallest roofs, towering palms sway in the ocean breeze, serving as a constant reminder you’ve found yourself in a pristine tropical paradise.